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"I've read (sorry, couldn't find the specific journal reference, but I'll
keep looking) that an opthalmologist/psychologist did the research on this
10 or more years ago, and discovered fairly conclusively that the serifs
increase the visual differentiation between characters and thus make serif
type more readable; since recognizing differences requires that there _be_
differences, the conclusion seems to have been based on the idea that
emphasizing differences between character shapes makes them easier to
recognize and thus read."
My understanding is that we don't read character by character but by
grouping characters and words (you academia types can verify and
correct). so recognizeing characters wouldn't necessarily enhance
The instructor for the typography workshop (by the Dynamic Graphics
Education Foundation) I took several years ago, stated that serifs aid
readability by creating a baseline, sans serif have clarity of form.
He further distinguished between legibility and readability.
Legibility is typeface design; readability is typography. Basically,
legible typeface is really boring and most choices of typeface are
He went on to discuss other issues that lead to readability, which I
won't go into at this time.